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Turkey and the Military: The Final Act

Saturday 30 July 2011 by Fadi Hakura, Associate Fellow, Europe
   


On Friday 29 July, after a history of tension between Turkey's secularist military and the governing AK party, four top military commanders resigned en masse in protest at further staff arrests by the government.


The resignation was a public display of weakness by the formerly all powerful military leadership. It marks the near-total subordination of the armed forces to the will of the civilian authorities. Relentless allegations of coup plots and plummeting public support have sapped the military's strength.

At the height of power

Turkey's Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has consolidated control over the major state institutions. His power and influence are unparalleled in modern Turkish history. Where he goes from here is now the real issue.

So far, indications are mixed. Media restrictions, internet censorship and social conservatism are on the increase. Turkey ranked 138 out of 178 countries in Reporters without Borders 2010 World Press Freedom Index; marking a decline of 39 places since Mr Erdogan came to power in 2002.

Another concern is the perennial Kurdish issue. Violence has returned between Turkey's armed forces and ethnic Kurdish rebels in the country's southeast, and Turkish political discourse stresses security measures rather than peaceful coexistence with Kurds. Ethnic antagonism is on the rise. A survey carried out this year by Konda, a Turkish pollster, found that 57.6 per cent of ethnic Turks said they would not marry a Kurd, while 47.4 per cent said they did not want a Kurdish neighbour. In comparison, 26.4 per cent of Kurds said they would not marry a Turk, while 22.1 per cent said they did not want a Turkish neighbour.

The most serious risk to the government's political fortunes is the economy. Analysts fret about the economy overheating, driven by rampant credit expansion and a loose monetary policy. Turkey's Central Bank disputes this however, and has refused to abandon an unorthodox monetary policy of low interest rates and limitations on bank liquidity, to the chagrin of international credit rating agencies.

Wait and see

The timing of the resignations coincides with a scheduled round of promotions for senior military officials by the Supreme Military Council on Monday. General Necdet Ozel has been quickly named as the new army chief and further promotions could be telling.

Following the recent elections, the prime minister has the mandate and the authority to resolve Turkey's deep-seated political and economic challenges. But whether he will remains to be seen.

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Turkey and the Military: The Final Act
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Saturday 30 July 2011
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